Before moving to Madrid I spent two weeks living la dolce vita in historic northern Italian cities. I began my travels with a Roman holiday. As a child, I was wildly obsessed with ancient civilizations, in particular, their mythology. My entire life I’ve fantasized about visiting Italy, Greece, and Egypt. I plan to visit all three within the next year. The condition of ancient ruins in Rome was extremely impressive considering the damage was done to the eternal city during WWII. Although much of the city’s infrastructure was over 2,500 years old the bombing of Rome and of the neutral Vatican was not seen as a crime against human history. 

The oldest and most intact temple in Rome is the Pantheon. This is in part due to its distance from the Roman Forum which kept it safe during ancient warfare but also because it is a temple to all of the Gods’ and various enemies have been afraid to destruct it over the ages in order not to offend their own deities. Many of the ruins in Rome, including the Pantheon, were built when paganism was the only legal religion in Rome. Built nearly 2,000 years ago the Pantheon dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. The oculus in the ceiling lets in natural light, and rain, but was intended to allow demons to flee the sacred building. As the city converted to Christianity the Pantheon became a church which further protected it from destruction. 

You can buy a ticket online in advance that includes Palatine Hill, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. This is a must in order to avoid the lines of hundreds of people at each location. If you’re a history nerd like I am you must set aside an entire day to explore. I suggest starting with the Roman Forum, you’re likely most familiar with the history and temples located here. The forum was once the most crucial hub in Rome. Everything from elections, speeches, and trials to gladiator games took place here. This is also where Republican government began with the first Senate taking place here.

One of my favorite places in the forum is also one of the oldest, the complex of the Vestal Virgins. The six vestals were less than 10 years old when they were each appointed to serve the Emperor and to maintain the sacred eternal flame. They served under strict rules, and if they were broken it was a threat against Rome so they would be buried alive as it was forbidden to spill their blood. They had sworn to 30 years of celibacy so the worst crime they could commit was losing their virginity. They were considered daughters of the state so any sexual relationship with a citizen would have been considered incest. The priestesses received salaries and were the only independent women in Rome, they could own property, have a will and vote in elections.

Also in the Roman Forum is the Temple of Saturn which stands on the oldest sacred place in Rome dating back to 498 BC. However, the ruins seen today are from 283 AD. Saturn represents wealth in Roman mythology, hence the temple’s value to the ancient civilization. The largest temple is that of Venus and Roma. Venus was an important God as she brought good fortune to Rome. This temple was a place where newlyweds could make sacrifices. After all, Roma spelled backwards is the Italian word for love, amor.

Across from the Temple of Venus and Roma is the iconic Colosseum. The Flavian Amphitheater is still the largest ever built. Opening in 80 AD it could hold up to 80,000 spectators. Many public events were held here free of charge to civilians including gladiatorial contests, executions, mock battles and mythological theater. During the inaugural games, 9,000 wild animals were killed. Throughout its entire use, it is estimated that 700,000 people died in the arena. Most were quite literally torn to pieces by beasts.

As I wandered around Rome I came across many temples and ruins I had no previous knowledge of like the Largo di Torre Argentina which is comprised of four temples and the theater where Julius Caesar was assassinated. My favorite square is Piazza Navona which is a bit of a tourist trap but I fell in love with the Fountain of Four Rivers. I visited this monument many times as one of the rivers represented is the Rió de la Plata from Uruguay! It was selected to represent the Americas over the Amazon river which is really quite astonishing. This was also one of the only places in Italy I heard any live local music.

I promise I didn’t spend all three days in Rome gawking at ancient architecture. I was also mesmerized by Roman pizza and pasta, finding it very easy to eat gluten-free in the Italian capital. I loved wandering through the Fiori market tasting different olive oils, vinegars, truffles and local liqueurs. Honey grappa isn’t something I ever expected to find delicious! I couldn’t throw a coin into the Trevi fountain but if I had I would have wished to visit the capital of the world again to spend more time in the picturesque neighborhood across the Fiume Tevere, the Trastevere and zip down narrow side streets with a gorgeous Roman man clad in a suit on his motorino.

Have time to explore more than just Rome while in Italy? Check out this 10-Day Italy itinerary! If you’re heading to Europe for the first time refer to this awesome checklist of things to know before you go to be best prepared for your trip.

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